“Web” Category

Steve Jobs on Google Maps In 2007

Here’s Steve Jobs on Google Maps in 2007:

We’re not trying to do a lot of stuff… You’ve got to partner with people that are really good at stuff. … We don’t know how to do maps on the back-end, we know how to do the best maps client in the world, but we don’t know how to do the back-end. So we partner with people that know how to do the back-end.

What we want to do is be that consumer’s device and that consumer’s experience wrapped around all this information and things we can deliver to them in a wonderful user interface and a coherent interface.

That approach hasn’t changed; Apple partners with Yahoo for weather, stock and sports data, and with Yelp for restaurant data. But what changed then is that Google wouldn’t provide Apple with new features in mapping like vector tiles and turn-by-turn directions without compromising the user experience, and so Apple had very little choice but to do it on their own.

Their first priority is to provide the best product they can to the customer. If that means partnering with someone that does something really well, do it; if it means doing it yourself, like with iTunes, then do that.

Yahoo email is another example. When Apple released the first iPhone, they partnered with Yahoo to provide free push email. The problem is that Yahoo email sucked, and it didn’t allow Apple to do things they wanted to do, like push contacts and calendar as well—so they went down the path of building their own.

That’s how Apple approaches these kinds of issues. Perhaps Apple could have waited another year to release their own maps application, but that would have been another year without turn-by-turn and without vector tiles, and it would have meant they were another year away from improving the quality of their maps data, which at some point has to happen from user-provided data. It sucks for customers that their maps aren’t as good as what we had while using Google Maps, but that was going to be true whenever they released it. Better to pull the band-aid off now and start the process toward a future where Apple can actually provide new features with maps.

September 26th, 2012

What does iPhone have to do with robots?

Om Malik explains that the success of smartphones are making new kinds of affordable robots (like Baxter) possible:

What is even more exciting — well, at least to me — is that the road to this robotic future is littered with billions of smartphones. The reason why we can build robots like Baxter today is because of the falling prices of sensors and other components. Before the iPhone rolled around, phones didn’t use that many chips. Apple came along and made it normal to demand gyrometers pyrometers, accelerometers, digital cameras, touch and other such sensors.

Fascinating point. This trend should allow much more than just robots; cheap processors and sensors should allow the computerization of much of our world.

September 24th, 2012

iMessage Gets Smarter

James Duncan Davidson notices that Messages is getting better at working across multiple devices:

In the small but lovely improvements department, iMessage support in iOS 6 and OS X 10.8.2 seems to finally smooth out many of the rough edges that it has sported since arriving last year. The ability to receive messages to your phone number on all your clients is the well-publicized part of this. More subtle—and much more welcome in my book—is the fact that iMessage now seems to sort out which client you’re using and keep the rest from dinging extraneously.

I’ve noticed the same thing—if I’m on my Mac and a message comes in while Messages is in the foreground or I bring it to the foreground within a certain amount of time, my iPhone and iPad don’t pop up notifications for it. It seems to work the same for opening messages on my iPad or iPhone, too.

Apple’s iMessage has had quite a few issues, but it’s improving quite nicely. It’s a wonderful thing to have continuous conversations across my Mac, iPhone and iPad. It’s getting so good that it’s almost entirely replaced instant messaging for me for conversations with certain people.

If it’s an indication for how iCloud and Siri are developing, then we should be quite happy, too. Apple seems to be getting better at this whole web services thing.

September 24th, 2012

Competing On the Story

Marcelo Somers:

Sony’s success with the transistor radio came from shifting the conversation for their customers. Knowing that they fell short in sound quality compared to the vaccum tube radios, Sony’s marketing emphasized their benefit: the size. They didn’t just tell consumers it was smaller, they showed them using it on the beach, in their car, and carrying it around. They didn’t compete on features, they competed on the story.

That’s excellent. What I think it means to “compete on the story” is to completely understand how your product should be used and what its advantage is. For Sony, it was listening to the radio wherever you please. For the iPod, it was a thousand songs in your pocket. Etc.

You can’t sell a truly new product (something people haven’t seen before) by listing its features. For the iPod, if Apple said, “Well, it’s got a hard drive and a scroll wheel and a headphone jack and a Firewire port,” people wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about. That means nothing to them. So instead, Apple showed them what the iPod does for you: it’s a little thing that you can take with you in your pocket and listen to all of your music.

That’s hard for companies to do, because many of them don’t have the understanding of their product necessary to create such a clear and to-the-point explanation as “a thousand songs in your pocket.” They don’t have a clear understanding because their design process doesn’t have that focus, either; they start with the market segment they want to target, then talk to customers and make a list of what their needs are, and then try to create a product which meets those needs. As a result, the product they create attempts to meet a list of needs rather than solve a problem. Their product has no defining thesis, no single purpose, and therefore they can’t tell customers a story about how it is going to be used.

That’s what design is. On the surface, what Marcelo is saying sounds like it can be something achieved at the end of the product design process by the marketing team. It sounds like it’s a customer perception issue. But it’s not. It’s a company processes and culture problem.

September 24th, 2012

Pure Digital Massively Trumps Print

The Atlantic is continuing to be successful by turning into a media company rather than a print company:

“It’s become very, very clear to me that digital trumps print, and that pure digital, without any legacy costs, massively trumps print,” Mr. Bradley said.

At a time when other media properties are leaning hard on subscriptions and paywalls, Mr. Smith believes that a free product, with revenue from sponsorships and events, can avoid the dependency on commodity ads and play in more rarefied, lucrative terrain.

In a way, they’re turning their publications into (profitable) loss-leaders for other, more lucrative businesses, like conferences. Smart.

September 24th, 2012

Art, Obsolete Before Science

Callum J. Hackett responds to a piece by Jonathan Jones that argues science has overtaken art in expanding minds:

Jones’s conception of art’s purpose is also too narrow. Art is not just for expanding minds and revealing beauty – that is a demeaning reduction that people too often indulge in, thinking that art is a delivery service for the picturesque and delectable. But art is so much more than that: it is an unbridled form of self-reflection. Art digs deep into every facet of our being – physical, psychological, social – and offers a view of ourselves untainted by comforting romance. Where is the horror in science? Where is the loneliness, the desolation, the unwilling acceptance of mortality? Science is almost too relentlessly beautiful to replace art – it slowly reveals everything we could ever want to know about ourselves, but it tells us nothing about how to interpret and deal with that information. It is all ablaze with the most amazing facts, but void of intimacy, personality and ethics.

On the contrary, I think art—something we use to analyze our world and find truth behind it—is more important now than ever. Science can tell us about how things are, but it can’t ever tell us how they should be.

(Via Rian van der Merwe.)

September 24th, 2012

A Talk With Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson, while talking to The Guardian about his new film, Looper:

“His [Haruki Murakami's] characters have this new-wave cool to them,” says Johnson. “There’s also a casualness with which he introduces sci-fi elements that appealed to me. Like the way we integrate the telekinesis stuff. They [the Loopers] use it as a bar trick to pick up chicks; it’s a bit of a wank. Normally that would be this huge sci-fi idea. I took that technique from Murakami.”

September 24th, 2012

Uber the Hunted

Megan McArdle dissects the Washington, D.C. Taxi commission’s effort to ban Uber from the city:

Now they’re trying to do it again, as the taxi commission proposes yet another set of rules. Among other things, the rules would prevent any sedan company with fewer than 20 vehicles from operating in the district, force companies to have an office in the district (Uber does, some like competitors don’t), and require, yes, printed receipts.

Wonderful. But it’s for the customer!

Fantastic example of how incumbent businesses can use government regulation to lock out competition.

September 21st, 2012

Basil 1.1

In March, I announced Basil 1.0. Today, Basil 1.1 is available on the App Store.

This version is more powerful, useful and… well, better. There’s twice as many supported sites, unit conversion for metric units users who want to cook American recipes with all of those teaspoons and tablespoons, recipe sharing, and a more powerful search. Oh, and creating or editing recipes is now easier, too.

It’s easier to find great recipes, easier to cook them, and easier to create your own.

More Sites

Basil now supports automatic saving from 20 great recipe sites. In addition to sites like Serious Eats, Allrecipes.com and Food Network, Basil now supports Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, the BBC’s recipes, and Australia’s Lifestyle Food. One site I particularly love is Love and Olive Oil. It’s an absolutely beautiful site with fantastic recipes, and I’m incredibly excited to have it in Basil.

Of course, when you search for new recipes to cook, Basil will find recipes from these new sites as well. It’s a very good way to find new recipes, because when you’re searching for something, Basil will only show you recipes from these great sites. No need to sort through Google search results.

Automatic Unit Conversion

If you’re outside the U.S., you probably don’t use American teaspoons, tablespoons, cups or ounces, which makes trying to cook recipes that use American measurements a, um, bit of a pain. To make that a bit easier, Basil will now convert them to metric units. But it doesn’t just have a conversion tool available in the app: if you select your preferred units in settings (American or metric units), Basil will automatically convert each recipe’s ingredients for you to your preferred units. So if a recipe calls for “1 cup of whole milk,” it’ll convert it to “240 ml of whole milk.” Basil never actually alters the recipe, though—it just displays it in your preferred units. That way, your recipe is always safe and accurate.

Basil goes a bit farther, too. American recipes measure many dry ingredients, like flour and sugar, using teaspoons, tablespoons and cups—which are volume measurements. People who use metric units for cooking, though, often use weight measurements for dry ingredients (something that makes a heck of a lot more sense), so there’s a problem: converting teaspoons to milliliters for dry ingredients, then, wouldn’t be very useful. So for many common dry ingredients—like flour, sugar, and different spices—Basil will convert them to weight measurements. It’s really convenient.

No need to go through and convert a bunch of amounts yourself. Let Basil do it for you.

Note: For now, for users who select “American units,” metric measurements will not be converted to teaspoons, tablespoons and cups.

Recipe Sharing

Basil already allows you to email recipes to people, but now they can add the recipe straight to their Basil library. It’s really easy. If you want to share a recipe with someone, email it to them like normal. Now there’s a link at the top of the email titled “Add to Basil”. When they tap this button on their iPad, it’ll do exactly what you expect: it’ll launch Basil and add it to their library.

It’s really convenient if you’re going to cook with someone and you both want the recipe on your iPad. Send it over and get cooking.

Better Search

Right now, you can search the full-text for each recipe in your Basil library. In 1.1, you can do basic AND or OR searches. So if you want to see just recipes from Serious Eats with bacon, search for “serious eats AND bacon”. Or if you want to see recipes with either cheddar or mozzarella, search “cheddar OR mozzarella”.

It’s a simple addition, but it’s quite useful. Maybe you can’t quite remember the recipe you’re looking for, but you know it’s from Allrecipes.com or Love And Olive Oil. Search for “allrecipes OR loveandoliveoil”, and Basil will show you just your recipes from those two sites.

Better Recipe Editor

Basil gives you full control to edit any of your recipes or add your own, but it didn’t take many directions or ingredients before you ran out of space for editing them. The 1.1 fixes this issue. When you add a new ingredient or direction or edit an existing one, the ingredient and direction lists slide up to the top of the screen, and when you’re done, they slide back. This gives you plenty of room to create or edit really long recipes.

Bolded Ingredient Amounts

When viewing recipes, any measurements in the list of ingredients—”2 cups,” “100mg”—are bolded to make them easier to pick out at a glance while you’re cooking. This is a small little addition that should make cooking a bit easier for you. This is an iOS 6-only feature.


I think this is a great update to Basil, and I hope you all love it!

September 19th, 2012

New Fitbit Syncs Over Bluetooth

The new Fitbits automatically sync with your phone over Bluetooth 4.0.

Awesome.

September 19th, 2012

Is the iPhone good enough?

Horace Dediu:

Disruption theory has taught us that the greatest danger facing a company is making a product better than it needs to be. There are numerous incentives for making products better but few incentives to re-directing improvements away from the prevailing basis of competition.

The reason for this is that once a product is “good enough”—it actually more than meets the customers’ needs—there is no basis for competing by making the product better. Instead, you have to compete by making it cheaper.1 The product becomes a commodity where price is the main differentiator.

That’s bad. There’s another risk, too: if, say, the PC as we know it overshoots the customer’s needs (browsing the web, email, doing basic word processing, et cetera), then not only does it become a commodity, but it provides an opening for completely different products to meet those customer needs while providing other advantages that the PC simply can’t, and therefore disrupt the PC market.

In this example, that other product would be mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). Since the PC had already fulfilled customer needs, something that we thought couldn’t ever compete with the PC started to eat its lunch. The iPhone or iPad will never be as powerful for certain tasks as a traditional PC, but they quickly became “good enough” for many of a customer’s main needs, like browsing the web and sending email. Since they’re good enough for that, and these devices’ very limitations—their small screens and hand-held form-factor—are actually huge advantages over the PC. You can carry it in your pocket. You can read books on it. You can listen to music. They’re more enjoyable to use. And so, a device-type that couldn’t ever compare to the PC began to eat into its sales.

The question Horace is asking is whether the iPhone has reached a similar stage as the PC—is it good enough now for what it’s meant to do, and so customers won’t be willing to pay for new features? It’s a good question; the iPhone has improved very rapidly in five years and is, I think, rapidly approaching its platonic ideal form. Horace’s conclusion, though, is it isn’t yet good enough, because customers still overwhelmingly purchase the new iPhone rather than last year’s, which is available for half the price. If that changes, we’ll know it’s become good enough.

He’s right. There’s still things that need improved and that customers want, and better networking is at the top of the list. (Of course, this is mostly a problem for the carriers and not for Apple.) WiFi could be faster. The camera could still be better.

But I think that there’s much less potential for improvement in the hardware than there is in the software. I’m not sure that the iPhone will look very different in a decade than it does today, because today’s hardware is quite good. But the software, I think there’s huge potential for change. We have the potential to do incredible things with these devices, like replace credit cards or control our homes or our cars, but all of these new uses we’re thinking up are possible today. We can build it with the hardware we have, with touch-screens, GPS, gyroscopes, WiFi and Bluetooth. Software is where the leverage is.

I think, too, that we need to begin developing other computing hardware to allow the rest of our world to connect. Nest connected our home’s heating and cooling systems to the web. We need more of that—our televisions, our cars. Why shouldn’t, for example, our car “stereo” expose an API over Bluetooth to our phones?

  1. You can also compete on brand, like Pepsi and Coca Cola do, but that’s a competition for the customer’s mind, not in actually making a truly better product. At this point, competition has moved away from improving the product. []
September 19th, 2012

I Experimented, I Tried, I Learned Things

David Carr has a truly terrific profile of Neil Young for the Times:

Doing as he pleases has worked out pretty well for him. As a young musician torn between the crunch of the Rolling Stones and the lyricism of Bob Dylan, he avoided the fork altogether and forged his own path. Over the course of more than 40 records and hundreds of performances that date to the mid-’60s, he has backed Rick James, jammed with Willie Nelson, dressed up with Devo, rocked with Pearl Jam and traded licks with Dylan. Some of it has been terrible, much of it remarkable. He has made movies by himself and with Jim Jarmusch and Jonathan Demme. He called out Richard Nixon, praised Ronald Reagan and made fun of the second Bush. And he has little interest in how all of that was received. “I didn’t care and still don’t,” he said, then went on: “I experimented, I tried things, I learned things, I know more about all of that than I did before.”

I’ve listened to Neil Young for most of my life—at least since I was four years old, but probably earlier than that, too. While on long road trips to visit family, my Dad would often play “Harvest Moon,” and so I have rather vivid memories of driving down desert highways at night, drifting in and out of sleep, while “Unknown Legend” or “Harvest Moon” play. For me, that album will always be the soundtrack for the desert; a slow, calm, deep and profound beauty.

Of course, as a kid, he wasn’t who I’d list as my favorite artist. But whenever one of his songs would come on—”Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” whatever—I listened, I followed every word, every sound. I don’t know any other way to describe his music other than as beautiful.

And now, 24 years old, the Ramones will always be my favorite band—and Neil will always be my favorite musician. He’s one of those people trying to find some truth in the world, and always trying to do something meaningful. Not all of his work is good. Some of it is terrible. But some of it is transcendent. It’s because so much of it is terrible that I so love his work; he was never afraid of failing in pursuit of doing something great. And so, by relentlessly pursuing it, by never settling for what he was already good at, he created art.

September 19th, 2012

David Pogue Tries Google Glass

David Pogue had a chance to try Google Glass:

But already, a few things are clear. The speed and power, the tiny size and weight, the clarity and effectiveness of the audio and video, are beyond anything I could have imagined. The company is expending a lot of effort on design — hardware and software — which is absolutely the right approach for something as personal as a wearable gadget.

New kinds of computers are coming—and now we have to decide what form we want them to take.

September 13th, 2012

Out of the Nuclear Closet

Jessica Lovering, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Shellenberger call for a commitment to nuclear power for our future energy needs:

What’s needed now is a new national commitment to the development, testing, demonstration, and early stage commercialization of a broad range of new nuclear technologies  – from much smaller light-water reactors to next generation ones  – in search of a few designs that can be mass produced and deployed at a significantly lower cost than current designs. This will require both greater public support fornuclear innovation and an entirely different regulatory framework to review and approve new commercial designs.

Nuclear power has a lot of drawbacks, but also incredible advantages: constant power and no emissions. We shouldn’t give up on nuclear power. We should continue developing it to overcome its drawbacks.

September 10th, 2012

No Dealerships for Tesla

Tesla will not use dealerships to sell the Model S sedan:

The store above in Denver is one of 14 Tesla has opened in the United States and 25 worldwide, with another eight to 10 set to open in North America before the end of the year. While the company has focused on meeting production targets of its electric Model S sedan, it’s also been adding stores like these — owned by the factory, usually located in malls or central shopping districts closer to Urban Outfitters than other car dealerships.

It’s a key part of Tesla’s overall business: Instead of building cars and selling them to dealers who hawk them to shoppers, Tesla wants to build only cars customers order — eliminating part of the auto industry’s massive overhead costs in inventory. By selling its cars directly, Tesla’s executives believe they can make their customers happy, and eventually sell more cars for less money.

Their model is quite reminiscent of Apple’s for retail: get their product in front of people, allow them to take a good look at it without pressure of a sale, and sell it to them online when they’re ready. Apple, of course, also sells their products in their retail stores, but Tesla will sell the Model S entirely online both because all vehicles will be made-to-order and to avoid ridiculous state laws that manufactures cannot sell directly to customers or own their own dealerships.

It’s quite telling, too, that this is an exciting model. Shows just how incredibly broken the automotive industry is.

(Via Marcelo Somers.)

September 10th, 2012